A couple weeks back we almost had an ice storm. It was one of those deals where it was raining and it was supposed to get below freezing right at 10am when our Sunday service begins. All the other churches in the area were cancelling their meetings that morning, so I decided to do the same.
Church was cancelled.
And nothing happened. It was The Great Chilled Dampness of 2013. We had been tricked; fooled by the weather into skipping church which is the greatest sin a religious southern boy can commit.
You know what? I was glad. It was like thinking you were going to work, and suddenly getting a day off that wasn’t planned which means no one has had a chance to fill that day off with running around town doing meaningless errands, yard work and chores. Remember snow days when you were a kid? The joy? The freedom? It was like that.
And I didn’t want anyone to know it because, well, I’m a good southern boy that grew up to be a preacher. And as I thought about it, in my pajamas, I realized how utterly ridiculous that is. So ridiculous, in fact, it could be thought of as blasphemous when you look at it from a certain angle.
I know you can’t believe I just said that. I’m a pastor, after all. I’m the one guy who always wants to go to church. I’m the guy that is supposed to motivate everyone else to faithfully be in that building every time the doors are open. Being in church meetings is my life, it’s what I get paid to do. I’m the pastor and that’s what pastors are for.
Wrong. So very wrong! Let me break it to you. Sometimes your pastor doesn’t want to go to church. Yes, he does anyway. But that doesn’t mean he always wants to. Your pastor is more like you than he wants to admit and I think we would all be better off if we could just come to terms with this. You know that feeling you get on some Sunday mornings when the covers are really heavy and you just feel like rolling over and going back to sleep? Your pastor feels that just like you do sometimes.
Why are we so awkward about this? Let’s think Biblically for just a moment. What is church? It’s people, right? The body of Christ, as Paul put it. God tabernacled in His people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of Jesus the sacred place of the temple, the sacred times of worship, the sacred priestly class, and the sacred methods of worship were overtaken – the walls torn down, boundaries blown over, the cat escaped the bag.
Grace ran amok in the Holy Places and let the riff raff in and asked the patients to run the asylum. Nothing has been the same since. Now all times are sacred. All places are sacred. All of God’s people are sacred priests. All of life can be sacred worship. This means that there is no such thing as a Christian skipping Church, unless you mean abandoning his/her relationships in the Body. That’s like saying I’m not going to be a Cotten any more. I can even change my name, but I’m still in the family. It’s in my blood. My DNA betrays me. When you become a Christian, Jesus changes your spiritual DNA. You’re born again and you can’t be unborn. You are in the family of God forever. You might be the annoying adult still sitting at the kids table, but you’re in. You’re a menace, but your the family menace.
You couldn’t skip Church if you tried. Go ahead. Try it. I dare you. It simply won’t work.
Now, stop with the objections. I can hear you elder brothers complaining already about “not neglecting the gathering of the saints”. (It’s ok. Elder brothers are invited to the party too.) Gathering together for worship and celebration is an incredible privilege and honor. In fact, it’s vital and Biblical. The guy that says he can “have church with just a beer and Jesus” is speaking out of left field. A Christian in right relationship with Jesus will be drawn to other congregated believers like a moth to the flame. The draw is irresistible because Christ is irresistible and He is present among his gathered people. To cut yourself off from the people of God (face to face relationship — do I need to say that?) is to cut yourself off from the primary flow of Christ’s love to you and through you. Period. Neglecting the gathering of the saints is a disease that afflicts the comfortable and un-persecuted. Ask a persecuted, isolated believer in an unChurched part of the world what they would do for a little Christian fellowship.
But, lets not be daft about this. Skipping a church meeting doesn’t exactly equate to “neglecting the gathering of the saints”. Jesus isn’t taking attendance and reporting back to the Father each week with a report on your aggregated faithfulness rank. Think about it. Christianity existed before cathedrals and 10am meetings. It even existed before Chris Tomlin, though that’s admittedly hard to imagine. People followed Jesus before altar calls. Saints were generous with their money before collection plates and the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave at the Benediction. And, heaven help us, we don’t leave Him in the building when we leave for lunch.
The thing is, all that morning I thought about my church family. I couldn’t help it. I missed their faces, even the grumpy ones. I missed worshiping together. I missed my favorite Worshiper yell out “Amen” at all the wrong times. I missed how proud I am to preach such precious things every week to my eternal brothers and sisters. I missed the quirky oddities of our congregation that only someone who really knows you can appreciate. I missed seeing the faces of all the people that grew a bit more like Jesus that week because I get a front row seat to their life-long transformation.
I think church life should be so vibrant and real that we should want to be together. We should miss it when we aren’t there, without feeling guilty for skipping. We should feel responsible for each other as friends not possessions. We should feel the loss when too much time passes between face to face contact with each other.
And we should give each other permission to sleep in when the covers are too heavy and simple rest is our call to worship.